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Transcript

Vice Presidential Debate Analysis

Robert G. Kaiser
Washington Post Associate Managing Editor
Wednesday, October 6, 2004; 10:00 AM

Tuesday night Vice President Cheney and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) faced off in their only debate. Who came out ahead? Did the format influence the event? How accurate were the candidates?

Kaiser will be online Wednesday, Oct. 6, at 10 a.m. ET to take your questions, comments and analysis on the debate, the candidates and the 2004 election.

_____About Your Host_____
Robert G. Kaiser is an associate editor at The Washington Post. Previously he was managing editor, second in command of The Post's newsroom, from 1991 until 1998. Earlier, he was a foreign correspondent in Vietnam and Moscow, and covered the Senate and the 1980 presidential campaign. He did a stint as editor of Outlook before becoming the assistant managing editor for National News in 1985 and later deputy managing editor. He is the author of six books including "The News About the News," which he co-authored with Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr.

Tuesday night Vice President Cheney and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) faced off in their only debate. Who came out ahead? Did the format influence the event? How accurate were the candidates?

Kaiser was online Wednesday, Oct. 6, at 10 a.m. ET to take your questions, comments and analysis on the debate, the candidates and the 2004 election.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Robert G. Kaiser: Good morning (unless you are one of our many readers in Europe or Asia, in which case YOU know what time it is.) We've got lots of good questions and comments about last night's Veep debate, and I look forward to a lively discussion.

I have also noted news stories in recent days reporting that both Democratic and Republican campaigns have been urging their supporters to use forums like this one to announce that their guy won the debate. We will, therefore, minimize the use of such comments, hoping for others with more substance and less emotion.

But we are not anti-emotion here! We always have to find criteria to NOT answer a lot of questions. If my typing is really fast, I may be able to get to 50 of your positings in the next hour. But we will receive hundreds, so many will have to be skipped. Apologies in advance!

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Boston, Mass.: When there is such a debate that last for an hour and a half, there is a lot of information that is sended to the public. The viewers are generally already aware of some of that information, but there is also quite a fair share of statistics, data and explanations that viewers might not have been aware of, since most people do not look at all the information available to them. For that reason, the Washington Post's "referee" articles are a nice initiative. I think that the average Americain will remember the candidate's opinions in general, maybe a few rebukes that he liked, but mostly the image projected by the candidates, along with the impressions felt when watching the debate. That is definitly what sank Bush in the first presidential debate.

In this debate, how do you analyze the image projected by the candidates to vice-presidency, both while answering questions and while listening to the opponent?

Robert G. Kaiser: Good question. I think both men learned a lesson from Kerry last week, and used note-taking as a means to avoid looking angry, bored, foolish, whatever. So my hunch is that facial reactions left no powerful impressions on voters.

Edwards had the tougher assignment going in, I thought. As a man whose entire experience in public life consists of one term in the Senate, he was at risk of looking less informed than Cheney, or lighter-weight. His task was to convince voters he knew the issues, and was a plausible VP or, if needed, president. Personally I thought he met that requirement, but that's only my opinion. Everyone is entitled to his/her own conclusion about that.

Cheney has, by my lights, long been a persuasive and impressive figure. He oozes gravitas. He has a winning manner that was perhaps better displayed against Sen. Lieberman four years ago, but which I again saw last night. I'm not sure how he defined his assignment last night. Part of him I'm sure wanted to counter the impression that he is an eminence grise behind the throne, or some kind of dark force in the administration. Part of him wanted to convince voters of what has emerged, really, as the dominant theme of the Bush-Cheney campaign: that Kerry is ill-equipped and/or ill-suited to be president. Part of him, I sensed throughout, just wanted it over with. On my report card, he too got good grades.

The Republican dream for last night was a stomping that would reverse the impact of last week's presidential debate, which has obviously revived Kerry's candidacy and again made this race very close. That dream did not, in my view, come true.

Finally I'd say that both men performed a public service by demonstrating to the millions who were watching that politicians running for the second-highest office can be smart, serious and purposeful. Of course, both also engaged in some of the demogoguery that is so entrenched in our politics, but frankly, I was pleased that the amount of this seemed limited.

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Parkville, Md.: I've got to say that I'm pretty surprised that much of the punditry and the press' reaction to last night's debate concludes that Dick Cheney was the clear winner.

Now, this is one man's opinion, but I personally felt that Edwards came out ahead... not by so large an unambiguous a margin as Kerry over Bush, but I was more impressed by Edwards' performance. Cheney actually seemed to be at a loss for words in some cases, even to the point of stammering. Edwards came accross as disciplined and lawyerly (and likeable to boot). And my opinion seems to jibe with that of the viewing public at large. This morning on Imus, Chris Matthews said that NBC's polling suggested the public thought Edwards had won by a 70/30 margin.

Do you think that by the end of the week the press will manage to convince the American people that they didn't actually see what they thought they saw last night, and the public's appraisal of the debate will flip (as in the first Gore/Bush debate)?

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't know what punditry you are referring to, but after reading a lot of it this morning and hearing a lot last night, I got the impression that the consensus was closer to the idea that both guys helped themselves with their supporters, and that for potential swing voters the result was probably ambiguous. Polls taken last night suggest this. The most useful poll, CBS's of undecided voters, showed Edwards, narrowly, the winner.

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Hartford, Vt.: Didn't Vice President's Cheney's performance last night inadvertertly set up an unfavorable comparison with President Bush and do nothing to dispell the notion that Cheney is not only in better command of the administration's case but, indeed, in command of the administration itself?

Robert G. Kaiser: Well, maybe it did for some. I really can't say.

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Wellington, NZ: I'm from New Zealand, where we rarely get the kind of lengthy, juicy debates of the kind seen Tuesday night. Although the uninterrupted 90-minute format provides for an excellent and wide-ranging discussion of policy issues, it seems to me that the length of time starts to tell on the speakers towards the end of the debate.
In this debate, it seemed that Mr. Cheney became less aggressive in the final 20 minutes, often engaging in quite philosophical and seemingly neutral answers (re: the lack of bipartisan consensus in Washington; his discussion of his own background). He seemed quite tired and unwilling to continue the sparring.
By contrast, Mr Edwards did not lose his zest, but began to repeat himself and slip past questions towards the end... for example, in the flip-flop question, he repeated the very examples Gwen Ifill used, and then never actually answered her precise question.
My question, then: do you agree with this analysis? Does mental tiredness play a role in these debates? Which candidate lasted better, in your opinion?
Many thanks.

Robert G. Kaiser: I do agree with your analysis; I felt it myself. It can't be easy to stay sharp and aggressive for 90 minutes. That was one of the things that impressed me about Kerry's performance last week.

That said, I don't think it's too much for us to hope that these guys can keep punching for 90 minutes. As always, I agreed with Tom Shales' general assessment; indeed, I never know what I think about these events until I read Tom's column. We will link to it here.

washingtonpost.com: Cheney Turns On Heat, but Edwards Doesn't Quayle (Post, Oct. 6)

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Washington, D.C.: I thought the debate provided a very sharp and interesting contrast in which each man's style blended pretty seamlessly with the substance of his positions. Those differences could be seen especially clearly in their separate summations: Kerry talked about hope -- the hope he, as the son felt ---- when he saw his father bettering himself by studying math on the tv. For Edwards, fathers are all about helping their kids help themselves. Cheney's summation focused on fear -- the dangers from which he, the protective if somewhat dour and stern father, is uniquely qualified by long experience to protect us, provided that we trust him and show appropriate deference.

So during the debate itself Cheney continued to make sort of ex cathedra assertions that he backed up only with his resume -- e.g., that going into Iraq was the right thing to do. Edwards, by contrast, several times suggested that people could see and judge for themselves the truth of the assertions made by both debaters.

As the 'commentariat' reflects on the debate afterward, (last night and this morning), you can see the same split: those who like Cheney find his lugubrious presence reassuring, and they tend to dismiss Edwards as the obstreperous upstart. Kerry supporters, on the other hand, find Edwards open and sunny, and see Cheney as arrogant, patronizing and out of touch.

That's why I thought it a very interesting and revealing contrast. Did you think it was and, if so, why?

Robert G. Kaiser: Obviously your partisan feelings are showing, but I think your analysis of how people, including pundits, reacted and will react is a good one. Not surprisingly, people like the guy they like, and find fault with the other one.

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Fairfax, Va.: The VP said he never met Edwards. Turns out this morning that there is evidence that he was wrong. Will this backfire on the VP?

Robert G. Kaiser: I saw Edwards say last night he had once sat next to the VP for hours. I want to know more about the details. If indeed they had met more than once (Edwards also said that), then yes, that nice moment for Cheney will lose some of its impact. Not that it was going to determine the outcome of the election anyhow.

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Washington, D.C.: Isnt it striking that Mr. Cheney, by almost all accounts, at least equalled Mr. Edwards' performance, in a medium most suited to the latter's youth and physical attractiveness ?

Mr. Edwards was put on the ticket for, among other reasons, the contrast he would provide to Mr Cheney -- youth, enthsuiasm, folksiness, etc. -- given that he at best "drew even" in this debate, would Mr Kerry have been better served with a different VP candidate stylistically and CV wise, one that matched up better with Mr. Cheney? Now it seems its all up to Kerry to win the next two debates -- winning all three debates seems to be a tall order for anyone.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the comment. I think it has long been the case that Kerry had to "win" all three debates to win the election. His task is to persuade an electorate that is unenthusiastic about the president and concerned that the country is off on the wrong track that he is a better alternative, and that it really is time to make a change. That's hard to do. He got off to a good start last week, but he has to be at least as good Friday, and again next week, in my view.

The VP contest would have been relevant in all this only if Edwards had fallen on his face. He didn't. Or so it seems to me.

Here's a link to Dana Milbank's good analysis that appears in this morning's Post:

washingtonpost.com: Candidates Play to the Jurors -- That Is, Voters (Post, Oct. 6)

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Raleigh, N.C.: I know probably 1000 people are asking about this same thing, but what did you think of Cheney's assertion that we haven't suffered 90 percent of the deaths in Iraq because that doesn't count the deaths of all of the Iraqi security forces? I'm a real poligeek, but that reference was COMPLETELY out of left field for me. Have you ever heard it before? How do you think John and Jane Q. Public in Peoria will react? For myself, it was so odd I didn't even, don't even, have a reaction.

Robert G. Kaiser: I've been to Peoria, but I would never pretend to be a Peorian. And I have no idea what the impct of Cheney's point might be. Edwards, I thought, was careful to say that 90% of the coalition casualties were American. That's correct. Cheney's assertion is in fact dubious; no one has a real count of Iraqi casualties. Here's a link to our "truth squading" piece of this morning, which addresses this and other topics...

washingtonpost.com: Misleading Assertions Cover Iraq War and Voting Records (Post, Oct. 6)

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Springfield, Va.: Hi Mr. Kaiser,

First, thank you for taking my comments and question today. I don't feel there was a winner or loser last night in the debate. Both V.P. canidates continued the messages of their running mates which is about what I expected.

However, I am very disappointed in the moderator. I felt she did a horrible job. She seemed very biased; putting her two cents in when it wasn't needed (i.e. saying that the canidates hadn't talked about a subject when Sen. Edwards actually had and V.P. Cheney went off subject), and she seemed to always allow V.P. Cheney to have the final word. Especially knowing that the race for the presidency is so close, and that any little thing could swing the vote in one direction or another why hasn't the media called her on the perception she was being partisan as the moderator last night? Do you feel she was perceived as being partisan?

Robert G. Kaiser: Well, she was by you! I didn't feel she was partisan, but I did think she made a few goofs. For one, she let the debate run about 8 minutes over the allotted time, which is one reason so many of us felt it went on a little long. She got confused once about who was due a 30-second response, giving it to Edwards mistakenly. And I wish she had asked some tougher questions (I always seem to want tougher questions!). Is it not quite amazing that Cheney was never asked to explain his totally confident pre-war statements that American invaders of Iraq would be received as "liberators," and that Saddam surely had vast stocks of weapons of mass destruction, and had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program--all of which have proven false? And I wish I could have edited the phrasing of her question about Edwards' lack of experience so it could have been more pointed: DOesn't America deserve, in these troubled times, a VP who has real experience in foreign and military matters beyond that afforded by five years in the Senate?

I don't think it's easy to moderate one of these debates, and this was Gwen Ifill's first experience.

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Great Falls, Va.: Are you aware of polls that show whether more voters want lots of experience in a VP or VP candidate-- or whether other qualities are as important? In Cheney's case, his experience comes with lots of baggage. As I listened to some post-debate analysis I felt some commentators felt Edwards suffered in comparison to Cheney's obvious long experience. (I don't agree.)

Robert G. Kaiser: My own belief is that a VP candidate only becomes important in highly unusual campaigns and situations. I'd bet there aren't 10,000 Americans whose vote will be decided by the presence of Cheney or Edwards on the tickets.

That said, I do think Cheney's presence onthe ticket strongly reenforced Bush's campaign theme in 2000 that he was really a compassionate guy who wanted to unite the country. Whether Cheney on the ticket actually changed votes I doubt, but I bet his presence reassured Democrats and swing voters who went for that Bush theme, and voted for him, that this was a safe thing to do. I have since met a number of such people who regret their vote in 2000.

What does that mean for 2004? Don't know, of course. In all the reporting I've read on this campaign, I've learned of quite a few former Bush voters who oppose him now. I haven't heard the voice of any Gore voters who are now for Bush, though polls suggest there are some.

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Columbia, Md.: Good morning.

I'm a Kerry supporter who thought Cheney narrowly edge Edwards on substance last night. Edwards, as has been said, did well enough to not create doubts about the ticket, though.

One thing I don't understand is why Kerry and Edwards continue to let Bush and Cheney repeat the same line about the Iraq funding vote over and over. To me, all they need to say is that they voted for the funding when it was paid for by tax cut repeals and the sacrifice was being shared by the American people and against it when it was paid for by defecit spending and only the soldiers were being asked to make a sacrifice. That doesn't seem like too much nuance to me. Am I wrong

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't think you are wrong. I suspect Kerry and Edwards feel that particular thicket is thick enough, and they would like to avoid adding to it.

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Agree with Parkville: I totally agree with Parkville, Md. who said that much of the press' reaction to last night's debate indicated that Dick Cheney was the winner.

I'm an independent viewer, and it just didn't seem that way to me. I especially liked when Edwards brought of Cheney's record in the House -- he voted against making MLK Jr. Day a National holiday!;? I, for one, didn't know that.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for posting.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Do you think Cheney ran up the white flag on the gay marriage constitutional amendment question? Will evangelical voters notice this?

I know that in this Me Generation one's own family situation trumps all others, but the argument for the amendment -- that it is needed because otherwise unelected judges will require states to change their laws on marriage as they did in Massachusetts -- is a strong one. It is also the President's position, and Cheney just seems to have acknowledged that, and then punted. The pro-gay marriage media will give him a pass, of course, but will everyone else?

Robert G. Kaiser: Don't know. We've already seen critical comments about Cheney's position (which he had stated previously, and did not alter last night) from members of the religious right.

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Chantilly, Va.: RE: Gwen Ifill

Did you also notice how, at the very beginning of the debate, she was not looking right into the camera but off to her right a bit? It was very disconcerting.

Robert G. Kaiser: I did notice that, but don't fault her. There was one cutaway shot that showed she was looking at her teleprompter; the camera is usually right above the teleprompter screen, but somehow it wasn't last night.

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Charlotte, N.C.: If you accept as a premise, that in a Presidential election, with a sitting President, the election is a referendum on the incumbant, then it seems to me that the Bush-Cheney campaign is at best taking a huge gamble, and at worse dropping the ball, in their attempts to make this election a referendum on John Kerry.

Cheney clearly avoided the record of the last 4 years last evening, instead opting to basically attack John Kerry, and at times, John Edwards, as somehow unfit. I'm not sure how that will play with undecideds who may have hoped to hear something about jobs, healthcare, or the way forward in Iraq.

Robert G. Kaiser: As indicated above, I see it somewhat differently. All year Bush has had the same problem: his approval rating has hovered below (and occasionally just above) 50 percent; the country thinks we're off on the wrong track; the Iraq war has lost support; etc. I think the Republicans sensibly feel that if the election is only a referendum on the incumbent, they are in serious danger of losing. So, I think, they have to try to discredit Kerry as a plausible alternative president.

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Omaha, Neb.: Edwards query to the moderator, "Your question was about jobs?" was the turning point for me in what had been a pretty even jousting match, with both candidates landing blows. But with those five words, Edwards deftly exposed Cheney's practiced effort to duck yet another question of critical importance to the American people.

My final litmus test for this administration is how well have they kept their promises from the 2000 campaign? The administration has proved that their promises to restore integrity to the oval office, and to unite not divide the country haved proved to be nothing but empty rhetoric. I've had enough.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for posting. In fairness, I think a lot of voters take the view that 9/11 and its aftermath pretty much blew the rhetoric of 2000 off the table, creating a new political world. But that doesn't mean you, and other voters, aren't entitled to take that rhetoric into consideration, of course you are. And the relevance of the "uniter not a divider" promise is one that, in my opinion, was not altered by 9/11.

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Stewartstown, Pa.: Your comment that Cheney "oozes gravitas" proves John Kerry's point at the first debate--that one can sound and be certain, but also be wrong. Cheney sounded convincing with his assertions about progress in Iraq, yet they are blatantly untrue, as any well-informed person realizes. The same can be said of Cheney's assertion that he did not try to link Saddam to 9/11. He sounded convincing saying he didn't--but he actually mentioned the two closely together many times. He also made the false assertion that Iraqi agents met with Mohammed Atta in Prague.

My point is: The way someone sounds does not really show how whether they are credible or not. Bush was so unimpressive at the first debate not mainly because he sounded unconvincing, but because he had nothing substantive to offer, and because his arguments were effectively rebutted by Kerry. He just repeated the same old, discredited platitudes about a "Free Iraq," progress in Iraq, etc.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for posting. I'm not sure substance overrides appearances always. And of course, your sense of what constitutes substance may not be the same as your neighbor's.

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Re: Tax Question: In the Post article today that debunked the assertions made in the debates last night, it said, "President Bush last year cut the tax rate on dividends to 15 percent, whereas most soldiers would be in a 15 percent tax bracket -- and pay an effective rate much less after taking deductions for children and mortgages." But that removes the Social Security and Medicare taxes, which a multi-millionaire living on his savings would not have to pay, while a soldier would. Why is this always taken out of the calculation? It seems extremely relevant when we're talking about tax burden.

Robert G. Kaiser: It sure does. As my friend John Fox points out in many articles and two books, the public debate about taxes is more often misleading than accurate.

At the same time, rich guys collecting dividends also pay social security and medicare taxes, but because the rates are fixed, the impact on their earnings is much less than it is on a working person's.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I personally thought that last night's debate was a tie. Given the individuals debating, do you think that the tie would go to Edwards?

Robert G. Kaiser: As I've said, the only way this debate was going to change the race was if Cheney totally blew Edwards away, wiping out the impact of last week's debate. That didn't happen. So Friday in St. Louis will be VASTLY more important.

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Chicago, Ill.: It seems to me that while the debates are primarily focused on major issues, i.e. war in Iraq, Homeland security, education etc., I believe the American people would also benefit in hearing about the fundemental differences between conservative and liberal approaches and philosophies. Right now all we hear is what we already experience insofar as the Bush administration's actions are concerned (reality) and what Kerry and Edwards say they will do if they are elected (possibility). I want to better understand the core differences between both sides at the root level. Is there a way to bring this out in the debates?

Robert G. Kaiser: Here, here! I couldn't agree more. I do not understand why moderators in both debates have avoided questions with any ideological implications at all. Kerry is a traditional liberal, arguably a moderate liberal. Bush has run what I think is indisputably the most ideological administration of my lifetime--to the great satisfaction of many conservatives, of course. Ideologies matter. And they have important implications for the country. I hope the questioners in St. Louis, or Bob Schiefer, moderator of the last debate, will address this.

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Marblehead, Mass.: I thought that Cheney was the clear winner last night, for the same reason that Kerry won last week. Both offered detailed answers which, right or wrongly, gave the impression that they were knowledgeable about the issue at hand. Both Bush and Edwards seemed to rely more on capaign type rhetoric. I'd like to see Cheney and Kerry face off, and Bush and Edwards do a cream puff "debate" for those who have missed the stump speeches.
Oh, and for the record, I'm a strong Kerry supporter who thought Cheney's attacks last night were an utter distortion of reality.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for posting.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Robert,

One exchange that caught my ear was about trial lawyers and frivolous lawsuits. It seemed like Cheney wanted to embarass Edwards with this. But Edwards pulled some jujitsu and actually had an idea for how to fix the problem of frivolous lawsuits! Did Cheney get totally nailed on that one?

Robert G. Kaiser: You'll have to decide...

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Havelock, N.C.: VP Cheney really hammered Senator Edwards and held him accountable on his lack of presence in the Senate as well as Senator Kerry. I think the two did well but I really believe that the VP won on class and best answers.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks.

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Raleigh, N.C.: This is a comment. I thought the debate was basically a draw. I did not think Edwards was near as sharp as he could have/should have been. However, Cheney came out in full "Dark Lord" mode. He looked positively Nixonian. While I think each candidate delivered what his diehard fans wanted to see and hear, I think that Cheney's nasty, condescending tone will not set well with moderate and swing voters who do not particularly like him anyway. Also, why does the press not hold Cheney accountable when he makes patently false statements, like "I never linked Al Quaeda with Saddam Hussein" and "This is the first time I've ever met Senator Edwards"? These are outright lies and if Al Gore or John Kerry made the same sort of misstatements, they would be crucified by the press.

Robert G. Kaiser: At the Washington Post, we are not in the crucifying business. But our truth-squad of Kessler and VandeHei, linked to above, points out bluntly that Cheney has indeed linked Iraq to 9/11 in the past.

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Arlington, Va. (but a native Texan): Jeff Greenfield had a good point last night -- the fact that Cheney looked strong and Bush did not is not necessarily a good thing for Republicans.

Thoughts?

Robert G. Kaiser: Again, last night won't matter. It's Bush's performance the next two times that will matter.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm a Kerry supporter, and the first debate, I though Kerry won handily. However, last night, I thought Edwards looked flustered, and was not consistently getting to a point. I felt like he continuosly tried to force sound bites and didn't come off as natural. Meanwhile, the vice president seemed to have a clear concise messages that answered many of the questions (except the ones about Haliburton). The one thing I didn't see was Cheney getting angry. When did he show any sign of emotion? I am honestly suprised to see so many newspapers singing Edwards praises. Did I watch a different debate, or did Kerry's team just get a better spin going?

Robert G. Kaiser: Your comment gives me an opportunity to make a point I feel strongly, but rarely get to make, to wit:

Why on earth should everyone have the same reaction to a political debate? Does everyone like Strawberry ice cream? Hip Hop music? The Yankees?

You are entitled to your conclusion about the debate, which grows out of the enormous complex ideas, prejudices, experiences and so on that make up you. I, the product of entirely different ideas, prejudices and experiences, may well come to a totally different conclusions. And if we end up in complete disagreement, so what? Indeed, how boring would the world be if everyone DID react identically?

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Ohio: Unfortunately my mother called and I only got to listen to the very beginning and end. But I looked through the transcript and I could find no reference by Edwards to Cheney's pre-war predictions that we would be hailed as liberators by the Iraqi people. If so, I think is was an unbelievable lapse. In my opinion that statement epitomizes the incompetence of the current administration and the fact that they have made wrong judgements and decisions over and over again and will likely continue to do so. I did hear Edwards say "more of the same for 4 more years" - I think his strategy should have been to keep hitting these 2 points over and over again. Your thoughts?

Robert G. Kaiser: I said earlier that I wished Gwen Ifill had asked about those Cheney statements.

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New York: I think it's especially difficult for reporters who have spent the whole year on the campaign trail to judge which parts of the debate are most effective, because they've heard it all before. On the other hand, as someone else has already pointed out this morning, many people will be shocked by the details of Cheney's voting record in the House, including his opposition to Head Start and a Martin Luther King holiday. I also thought Edwards litany about the sins of the big drug companies was particularly effective, but reporters who cover him regularly would never have noticed it.

Robert G. Kaiser: This is a good point. Political reporters have to be among the most jaded human beings on the face of the earth. That they can still muster curiosity, independent judgment and energy for their jobs is a minor miracle. But at least among my colleagues at The Post, they do! And I am grateful for it.

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Arlington, Va.: Maybe I'm idealistic, but you haven't addressed what I think is the most important question: who told the truth more often?

Let me get my bias right out: I'm a Kerry suporter. But I challenge anyone to read The Washington Post's "debate referee" article and claim Edwards made anywhere near as many misleading comments or "deliberate misstatements of facts" as Cheney did.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the posting. It doesn't take a PhD to count up the examples in that article; your analysis of it is accurate.

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Ghana: Don't forget Africa. You have readers here too.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thank goodness! We don't say often enough how thrilling it is for Washington Post journalists to reach so many people in so many places, thanks to this great website. We love it!

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Washington, D.C. : I agree about Gwen Ifill. It was bugging me the entire debate that she seemed a bit harsher and more accusatory toward Edwards. Her entire tone was different with Cheney, and I did not need her little asides. I actually first started to feel she might be slightly partisan when I watched her covering the Democratic convention. I also wonder if with so much talk of "liberal media bias" that some -- perhaps Ifill -- overcompensates in an effort to avoid the label.

One more thing -- I was pleased that someone finally brought up the Bush'Cheney flip-flops on the 9/11 panel and the Dept. of Homeland Security because I have long felt it was a very telling bit of information. Why hasn't this issue gotten more play from the Kerry/Edwards camp?

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for the post. I'll now put up several othercomments on Ifill...

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New York: I was a little puzzled by Ifill's question where she didn't want the candidates to mention their running mates' names. What was the point of that?

Robert G. Kaiser: Don't know.

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Alexandria, Va.: I like Gwen Ifill and find her unflappable under any circumstances, including last night -- even when she mistakenly gave John Edwards an extra 30 seconds, she changed course and corrected herself within about 15, which took decisiveness and guts under the glare of the camera.

That being said, how can a heavily negotiated 90-minute debate go over 90 minutes? Do they usually clock in at 90-plus and I just haven't noticed? Did she ask one "pair" of questions (one to each) too many? What happened?

Thanks for your help.

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't know; she lost control of it somehow. I suspect we'll get an explanation today.

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Agree with Arlington: I think you're right, Robert, the Prez debates will always be the most important, but Arlington's point on Cheney looking stronger than Bush is always going to loom. We're only going to see Cheney debate this once; he seemed better than Bush, and that has often been the criticism of their relationship (and it won't matter how Bush does in the next two debates). Makes me remember the joint appearance before the 9/11 commission...Others?

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for the comment.

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Portland, Maine: We've grown fond of using the words "misrepresentation" and "distortion" to define "lie." Is it ever appropriate for a media outlet to call a candidate a liar?

Robert G. Kaiser: Perhaps in some egregious circumstance it would be, but "liar" is, generally, a word for editorial writers and columnists, not reporters. Reporters' job is to tell you what happened, explain the context, and, when justified, point out the contradictions or inconsistencies. But using a judgmental word like "liar" shouldn't be part of our daily routine.

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Germantown, Md.: I noticed that the VP accidently said "factcheck.com" and George Soros found some spare change and bought the name. Of course, the VP meant factcheck.org. I think.

Robert G. Kaiser: You're right. I read about Soros this morning, but I read too much this morning to remember where.

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Boston, Mass.: Is courtesy and etiquette a criteria for debaters? Cheney did not even acknowledge Edwards presence or provide so much as a thank you for appearance to Edwards in his closing statement. How much should a veep actually support their boss? Edwards consistently included Kerry in almost all of his comments on plans and initiatives of the upcoming campaign. The level that each of these individuals think that they are at are pretty clear. One understandingly has a nose gradient problem and a hunched back, while the other seems to hug everyone and everything - though he certainly sat up straight. It was no doubt quite interesting.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for your commentary.

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Jackson, Miss.: Why didn't Vice President Dick Cheney respond to Edwards' attack of his votes against the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the stance against the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela?

Robert G. Kaiser: Can't speak for him, but Cheney did indeed cast those votes.

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Bloomington, Ind.: Did you detect a subtle but significant difference between Sens. Edwards and Kerry on foreign policy? It seemed to me that Kerry expressed more understanding of the global political dimension of US foreign policy. Perhaps Edwards was just trying to protect Kerry from ridicule from his (frankly, perfectly reasonable) "global test," but I heard Edwards striking tough poses on the Middle East and Iran, without any expression of the need also to take into account the interests and human rights of those with different views or backgrounds.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for the comment.

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Kennesaw, Ga.: Cheney said that he never saw Edwards in the Senate. Is this not fair since the Vice President is rarely at the Senate since he really only needs to be there when breaking a tie vote? He said that he is only there on Tuesdays. Is that not the time he meets with the Republican Senators or am I wrong?

Robert G. Kaiser: I saw Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) on television after the debate pointing out that Cheney has a weekly meeting with Republican senators, but has never met with the Democratic caucus. I presume Leahy knows what he is talking about, but have no independent confirmation.

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Arlington, Mass.: I just want to thank you for the Debate Referee. I think this is the best reporting on a debate ever. I like it that you get beyond the he said/he said and really tell us the reality check. Keep this up it is very worthwhile. Best.

washingtonpost.com: Debate Referee

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks. here it is again.

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Washington, D.C.: I quite enjoyed the debate. I have a new found respect for both men. The VP looked as if he could almost survive a day in the U.K. Parliment with his attacks against Edward's Senate attendance record and Edward's response in turn was terrific. He didn't take the bait and swung back with his own attacks on Iraq, Halliburton, etc, etc.

I would have liked to have seen more questions on domestic issues but on the whole I was left with an impression that the diplomatic process is working.

They've piqued my interest and I would like to see more debates like the one we just saw. In the meantime I'll just continue to "zone out" to the political ads. Maybe by a packet of chips and soda so I am better prepared for the next debate.

Best Regards


Robert G. Kaiser: My hunch is that a lot of Americans share your view. If you think about it, these debates constitute a quite wonderful departure from the appalling state of our public discourse generally, especially on television. I'll be curious to see how big the audience was last night, and I expect a really huge audience Friday night. It's a lot of fun, and very helpful, to see these guys coping with serious questions before our eyes. Television made this sort of encounter possible, than squandered the potential of the medium by cultivating the sound-bite and talking-head cultures that are so annoying to so many. Especially me!

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Charles Town, W.Va.: I heard a couple of pundits--Tucker Carlson, for example--suggest that it was very awkward, uncomfortable and maybe a little sleazy for Edwards to mention Cheney's daughter. I disagree.

Ifill and Cheney had both eluded to the fact that Cheney's daughter is gay. I thought Edwards' remarks were kind and that Cheney was truly grateful.

I also feel that it was Edwards' kind remarks that de-fanged Cheney somewhat. He didn't bother following up to defend the administration further on the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and he declined once or twice later in the debate to follow-up. Nor did he get in any more "zingers" after that exchange.

How did you interpret that exchange?

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the comment. I hadn't thought about this, and would have to think about it longer than I can now to make a real comment of my own.

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Chiba, Japan: I am on the Kerry campaign email list. Within hours of yesterday's debate, I received a Kerry campaign email urging me to vote in online polls and including a number of links (mainly tv network sites). Presumably I received a similar email after last Thursday's debate, but didn't read it. My question is, does ANYONE in the news pay even the slightest attention to such polls? Do such polls limit votes to one per computer (which would still allow me several votes) or can partisans on both sides just flood them? Please tell me that NO ONE (i.e. no journalist) gives them any credence.

Robert G. Kaiser: Well, no serious, good journalist gives them any credence. Unfortunately, that does not cover the entire universe of self-styled, or actual, journalists.

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Arlington, Va.: Don't you think the most vital thing about this debate was how it played out in Ohio where it took place and a crucial battleground state? I thought Edwards did an incredible job at talking about the lost jobs during this President's watch and I think that will be crucial in winning this swing state that has suffered the most in losing jobs to outsourcing.

Robert G. Kaiser: I repeat, last night won't matter on Nov. 3. It might have if it had been a different kind of evening, but because both sides did reasonably well, it just won't change much.

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Arlington, Va.: What was your reaction to Gwen Ifill's question concerning the relatively high incidence of HIV among Afro-American women? Personalyy, I was perplexed. This was a one time debate of 90 minutes with many issues in dispute. It seemed to me that the issue that she raised was too narrow and suggested a personal interest. Ifill never asked about the candidates' positions on health care generally or education. Both of these issues could be pivotal to many voters.

Robert G. Kaiser: I was baffled by it.

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Ont Canada: It seems to me that the "spinning" has got out of hand. I couldn't watch the post debate discussion because the spin adds no useful insight into the result. Do you see at time when the networks realize this waste of air time and move to a different, more useful kind of analysis?

Robert G. Kaiser: The spin is totally out of hand, and totally irrelevant. It is my fervent hope that most Americans are now immune to it.

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Milan, Italy: Here we definitely do have the perception that Cheney is stronger than Bush and the feeling that he is maneuvering some of the strings of government. In view of the presidential and vice-presidential debates, does this come through in the U.S., too?

Robert G. Kaiser: Speaking for myself, I'd say it does not come out in the debates so much as it comes out in our reporting, including a wonderful piece by Glenn Kessler in yesterday's Post, to which perhaps we can link here.

washingtonpost.com: Impact From the Shadows (Post, Oct. 5)

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Salt Lake City, Utah: Hello Mr. Kaiser,

Thank you for doing this discussion. There was some reporting last week about the numbers of newly registered voters for each party (specifically in Ohio), but I haven't noticed much about voter turnout. Is this just something that is very difficult to predict?

If I recall correctly, the overall voter turnout in 2000 was just above a dismal 50 percent -- so to my mind, one of the most important things a candidate can do in the debates is to impress upon those in his party that it is worth spending a half hour or so to get to the polling place on election day -- I thought Kerry did that last week, not so sure the v.p. candidates had much effect last night.

I'm constantly amazed at the effort put in for undecided voters by the campaigns, when with such low voter turnout in the past, it seems just convincing the rest of your party to turn out would be far more effective.

Robert G. Kaiser: You touch on a subject that is much debated by political professionals. In the end, I think both camps have decided they have to do both: turn out their voters, and look for swingers who might come to them.

I have long thought that I might live to see the day when a new kind of populist candidate actually touches the great mass of non-participants and dramatically increases the size of the electorate. This might be someone more like Huey Long than George Washington, of course. But I'm 61 now, and have to face facts: I may NOT live to see that day.

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Washington, D.C.: When VP Cheney criticized Kerry for voting to go to war in Iraq, I was waiting for Edwards to respond that "yes," he did support the war, BUT on certain conditions or "promises" that the president did not keep. Edwards did a superb job last night, but do you think he could have been more forceful in his rebuttal to this particular comment?

Robert G. Kaiser: yes

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Milwaukee, Wis.: And I was wondering why they Kerry campaign doesn't ever refer back to Dwight Eisenhower's famous speech concerning the influences of the military-industrial complex. Considering Cheney's highly publicized career changes from politics to working for Halliburton why don't the Democrats use this to their advantage? Does this use of a dead presidents speech constitute a violation of some unwritten political agrrement?

Robert G. Kaiser: No, alas, it reveals how anti-historical our political culture is. How many living Americans remember that speech? And of those who do, how many hadn't decided months ago whom they were voting for this year?

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Robert G. Kaiser: Well, that was a lot of good comments and queries! Thanks to all who took part. We'll be back Friday night, minutes after the end of the presidential debate. Please come back then.

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